LEROY — After living in various places across the country and throughout Michigan, 88-year-old Carl “Gus” Gustafson is back in his hometown of LeRoy happily supporting the district he loves and from which he graduated.

Gustafson is almost finished with a new sign he built outside of the former LeRoy Elementary School, which is now officially Pine River Area Elementary School.

First a simple sketch on paper, the structure now stands about 10 feet tall, weighs almost 1 ton and is made from concrete and sign foam. It depicts two children standing on a large book, a blackboard, shapes and a math problem in a colorful way that is both cheerful and welcoming. Fundraising efforts by the district made it all possible.

“I feel really good about the sign,” Gustafson said, noting he began building it about three months ago. “I’ve always liked cartooning, and I love kids.”

Gustafson has spent the last 50 years making signs, lettering and cartoons. He studied art in Chicago for two years at the American Academy of Arts in 1950 and after living in Chicago, San Diego and Grand Rapids, he returned to his roots. Most of the signs in LeRoy, in fact, were made by his hands.

He said God makes his work possible and keeps him able at his age to create signs and other items that make people happy.

“He’s my guide,” Gustafson added.

Alan Thomas, principal for Pine River Area Elementary, feels the sign is perfect for the school’s fresh, new beginning.

“I think it’s awesome. It’s so bright and positive,” Thomas said. “I hope it brings excitement. It’s hard to look at that sign and be down.”

He added he believes the new elementary school will bring a single community feel versus three communities with three schools. Goals include making learning fun for students, creating an enjoyable experience in school and having the neighboring villages come together as Pine River students. About 25 staff members will be part of the new elementary, which begins its first day on Sept. 3.

Gustafson will also be placing the name of Pine River Area Elementary School on the building’s fascia near the front entrance and the building will be painted in green and white to match the district’s colors. Members of the district and community will be able to see the changes at an open house scheduled for August 27.